Thousands of Bexar County residents living near military bases north and west of San Antonio voted Tuesday night against being annexed by the City of San Antonio.

More than 21,000 county residents near Camp Bullis, Camp Stanley, Lackland Air Force Base, and the Medina Annex voted to let San Antonio extend land-use regulations instead of being annexed. In the Camp Bullis area, 96 percent voted for the land-use option while 84 percent living near Lackland Air Force Base did the same. Fewer than 60,000 people live in the affected areas.

Following the votes, San Antonio City Council will need to pass an ordinance to establish land-use control in the areas according to the area’s most recent Joint Land Use Study, said Jeff Coyle, the City’s government and public affairs director. The study recommends rules governing light pollution, noise, building height, and preservation of natural habitat.

The annexation option would have been considerably more expensive for the City, Bridgett White, director of the City’s Planning Department, told the Rivard Report in August. Annexing the approximate 43 square miles would have cost the City $188 million over 20 years to provide city services, while the approved land-use option would have minimal costs.

Both options were offered to require “compatible” development around the bases, Coyle said. Ordinances that the City will apply to the areas around the bases include requiring light to point downward to keep skies dark to ensure that military bases can conduct training exercises at night, and making sure developers protect new development near the bases from unwanted noise from military activities. For example, Coyle said, the City can require homes are built near Lackland’s shooting range to be constructed so that the noises do not interrupt people’s sleep.

“A lot of the ordinances, like the lighting, sound, and tree ordinances, were put into place because of the [Joint Land Use Study] and they worked really well,” Coyle said. “Even the Rim near Camp Bullis is compatible, because they use the right lighting, they often turn their lights off at night.”

Residents around Camp Bullis and Lackland largely opposed annexation because they would pay higher taxes if incorporated into San Antonio. Mike Stewart, who lives near Camp Bullis and leads a group called Homeowners Against Annexation, said he and his community objected when the City first told them they planned to annex their area.

Bexar County put annexation of the areas near Camp Bullis and Lackland on the ballot after Senate Bill 6 passed during the special session in 2017. SB 6 gave Texans who live in large counties the ability to vote on potential annexation. Before then, cities could annex areas outside city limits without residents’ consent.

Stewart said he was elated at voters’ rejection of annexation but unhappy about the propositions’ phrasing.

“The ballot language is vague and confusing,” he said. “Every person I talked to, everybody was confused on what the ballot meant.”

Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, the City’s director of military and veteran affairs, said the intent behind the ballot propositions was to pave a way for compatible land use in future development near the bases. His priority was to help keep base training effective and people near the bases safe, he said.

“Compatible land use means you’re able to train, train safely, the community is safe, and we’re able to reap economic benefits,” Ayala said

Ayala added that the military continues to be a top employer in San Antonio and Bexar County. In 2015, the City found that Joint Base San Antonio, which includes JBSA Randolph, Fort Sam Houston, Camp Bullis, and Lackland Air Force Base, contributed $48.7 billion to the Texas economy.

“The economic impact is huge,” he said. “We want to keep that, but at the same time we don’t want to squash development or economic impact. The military is not opposed to development, the military just wants to train. And we want to keep the military here.”

Stewart said there are people in his neighborhood who know the Joint Land Use Study inside and out, and one of them will “have to keep an eye on San Antonio” to make sure they’re staying within the parameters of the study’s recommendations. He also said he was skeptical of the City’s claim of wanting to protect the military’s mission.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg (right) speaks with anti-anexation community member Mike Stewart.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg (right) speaks with Mike Stewart, who opposes annexation of his community near Camp Bullis, in August. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“There is a huge distrust of government in my community,” he said. “Those people at City Hall, we didn’t vote for them and they don’t always have the same ideas we have.”

Land use rules applied to the areas around the bases would only affect new development, Coyle said.

“All the existing conditions today are grandfathered in … So long the existing conditions remain, it wouldn’t affect existing homeowners,” Coyle said.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.